In my previous post, Why Do We Have Elders, we looked at the biblical mandate, calling, and role of the elders in the church. The pastors and elders are called to "shepherd God's people"; to humbly oversee the church as servant leaders. Here I would like to share how we go about selecting, examining, and affirming these men.
First off, each new year begins an informal NOMINATION process. What does this mean? Great question. Each year the current elders begin praying through the question: Are there certain men within our church family who meet the qualifications described by Paul to Timothy and Titus of an elder? We start making a list. We then continue praying through that list together. After a certain period of time, if we come to unanimous agreement on a particular man (or men), we approach him and ask him to prayerfully consider if the Lord might be calling him to this role. As an example, this past year our list began with 4 men. Over a month's time, we all felt very strongly about 2 specific men. They both agreed to prayerfully consider the question: Is God calling me to be an elder? 1 of those 2 men overwhelmingly sensed that affirmation and the other did not. That's one way that a man enters into this process.
Along with that, a couple of other initial scenarios can happen. One being that a man can nominate himself. This may sound or seem egotistical or prideful to some, but to be honest, if that was the driving force behind a man's self-nomination, it would almost certainly be visible. Self-promotion is pretty tough to disguise. Having said that, there have been times when a member has come to us and asked us to consider a man for nomination. One man in our church (who would probably be shocked by this due to his humility) has had multiple people over the last years come to me and "nominate" him - meaning they've come and asked, "Why isn't so & so an elder? He would make a great elder!" This man clearly meets the qualifications, yet very clearly has told me (on mulitple occasions) that he does not sense the Lord's calling and leading to take on that role or responsibility. I would also like to add that there are multiple men within our church body who have been approached by the elders because of the clear evidence of their character, who have not felt the call of God to the role. The calling is critical!
So whether nominated by a church member, himself, or the current elders, if a man accepts that nomination we then begin what we call the EXAMINATION process. [This usually lasts around 6 months.] We have a fairly thorough 6-page application that an elder candidate fills out, including everything from family history, to testimony and personal salvation experience, to doctrinal and theological questions. We also ask for references. We want to talk to people who can verify that what we see in an elder candidate's life is being seen by others and has been seen by those surrounding him for some time now. During this time, our pastors and elders are encouraged to meet with him, spend time with him and his family, get to know who he is and pray for the Lord's clear wisdom and discernment concerning this man. We also require him to do a bit of reading, wanting to make sure he understands (as fully as possible) the role and responsibilies he is considering. He needs to know that he is not becoming a member of a board or group of trustees or a personnel committee. First and foremost, he is yielding to God's call on his life to "shepherd and oversee" the people of God.
When (and if) our pastors and elders come to unanimous resolution that we have fully examined this man's life and we not only see clear evidence of him meeting the qualifications, but also that he is surrendering to the call of God on his life to step into this role, we will then present him to the church family for a brief time of examination. [This usually lasts around 4-6 weeks.] This time allows anyone to come and ask questions of the elders, bring up anything that may have slipped past us in regards to his character or actions, but also (and hopefully more prevalently) provides an opportunity for people to get to know him, pray for him, and see the evidence of why we nominated him in the first place.
At the end of this process, after the entire church body (pastors, elders, staff, members) has had time to examine this man's life, if we (the elders) are still in unanimous agreement, we will then AFFIRM him as an elder before the entire congregation. We have always done this on a Sunday during our services because we believe it is something the entire church body should be involved in. While what we do is very simple, it is also very meaningful. The pastors and elders will gather around the elder candidate, lay hands on him, and pray over him. This is not a magical transference of "elder powers" or some sort of mystical ceremony. Paul laid hands on Timothy as he prayed over him. The apostles "prayed and laid their hands on" Stephen and the others they had chosen to be deacons. We do the same.
While we desire every part of WHAT we do to be driven, catalyzed, and mandated from and by the scriptures, we are aware that a portion of HOW we go about it comes from us. This is why we never stop asking, "How can we do this more effectively? What can we do better?"
I hope these posts have given greater clarity and understanding to what our elders do, why we do it, and how we are chosen to do it. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have about biblical elders and church leadership.
"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." 1 Timothy 3:1